WASHINGTON — Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) will introduce a bill Tuesday that would impose jail time for pharmaceutical executives whose companies engage in manipulative practices when marketing opioids.

The legislation would impose a 10-year minimum prison sentence and fines equal to an executive’s compensation package if the individual’s company is found to have illegally contributed to the opioid crisis. It would also impose an additional fine on those companies of $7.8 billion — one-tenth the annual cost of the crisis, per a 2016 estimate.

The bill outlined a number of mechanisms by which the Department of Health and Human Services could demonstrate such liability, including by mandating written justifications for pill orders that seem medically unreasonable. And the legislation would establish an opioid reimbursement fund, to be administered by HHS, that would collect the fines levied under the new law and distribute them to other federal departments.

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The bill would also prohibit companies from direct marketing of opioid products without adequate warning of their addictive properties and establish a reimbursement fund that would collect revenues from the penalties imposed.

In many cases, the bill’s proposals take aim at the most-cited perceived misdeeds of opioid makers and distributors.

Purdue Pharma, which manufactures the opioid painkiller OxyContin, announced in February it would no longer directly market the drug to doctors, a major shift for the company that has shouldered an increasing share of the blame for the national crisis.

McKesson, a drug distributor, is said to have shipped 5 million opioid pills to a West Virginia town with 400 residents over a two-year span.

Those two companies are among a larger group of manufacturers and distributors being sued in a consolidated case in an Ohio federal court. The Department of Justice said earlier this month it planned to file an amicus brief in the case.

Sanders’ new effort is the latest in a spate of opioids-related bills, but takes aim at pharmaceutical companies more explicitly than others. Some version of an opioids-related bill is seen as the last major legislation likely to be pursued on Capitol Hill prior to midterm elections in November.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he hopes to bring a legislative package to a vote by Memorial Day.

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  • The so called “opioid problem” in America is not caused by sale or use of prescription pain medication. True, some people abuse prescription pain medication, however, unintentional overdoses of prescription pills are rare because people know how many pills they can safely take.

    The real problem is the governments misguided war on sick and elderly American’s who rely on prescription opioids to treat constant and unremitting pain. By restricting access to prescription medication the government has reduced the supply of quality controlled prescription pills available on the black market for drug addicts to purchase. This has created a huge profit incentive for Mexican drug cartels to smuggle illegal opioids and fentanyl into the US. There is no quality control for Mexican manufactured drugs and there is a wide variation in the strength of these drugs. Drug addicts who are used to using a specific number of pills without overdose can easily die if they purchase fentanyl laced opioids from their drug dealer that are hundreds of times more potent than expected.

    It is the government that is causing the thousands of overdose deaths that are killing so many drug addicts in America.

    If the government were only murdering America’s drug addicts it would be bad enough, however, the really sad thing is that the government is responsible for the suicides of tens of thousands of America’s sick and elderly who kill themselves each year because they can no longer endure the cronic pain that they previously took opioids to treat. People who had previously been able to live a reasonable quality life have been forced to kill themselves rather than endure a life of constant and daily pain that they know will continue until they die. Ask anyone who has spent ten or twenty years living in constant pain and they will tell you how much they long for the sweet release of death.

    I have been taking opioid drugs daily for the past 5 years with zero negative effects. I have never had any problem with addiction or abuse and cannot imagine how anyone who uses these drugs AS PRESCRIBED could suffer negative effects. My greatest fear in life is that I will become yet another of the thousands of elderly victims of the governments misguided war on opioids and end up with my pain medication being denied.

    The solution to America’s “opioid crisis” is to increase availability of prescription opioids to America’s sick and elderly and to put the Mexican cartels out of business by making it easier for drug addicts to obtain legitimate and quality controlled opioids from a pharmacy rather than a drug dealer.

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